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Reformed Tech Industry Body Looks to Boost ‘Digital Economy’

ICT Federation president, Steven Path, in a public event in April 2016. (Courtesy of ICT Federation)

ICT Federation president, Steven Path, in a public event in April 2016. (Courtesy of ICT Federation)

The ICT industry has grown significantly and is estimated to be worth about $800 million at present, employing some 30,000 IT professionals.

Representatives of Cambodia’s tech sector say they are ready to help the country take advantage of global advances in information and communication technology (ICT), after recent reforms to the main body representing the industry.

The management of the ICT Federation of Cambodia was overhauled in April in an effort to ensure that it is ready to welcome new investors, both domestic and international.

The federation’s newly-elected president, Steven Path, the founder of tech consultancy Pathmazing, predicted that, a decade from now, Cambodia’s ICT industry would be worth $3 billion a year and would employ 100,000 people.

“Our new vision is to empower Cambodia’s digital economy,” he told VOA Khmer. “So our job, as the industry leader, is to help… ICT companies at all sizes to be more competitive, to help them grow their businesses because Cambodia’s digital economy is still at the very early stage.”

The group has changed up its leadership partly to ensure that it is considered politically independent. But Sok Puthyvuth, the head of SOMA Group who is also the son in law of Prime Minister Hun Sen and the son of Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, remains the federation’s chairman. A report from Global Witness published this week alleged that members of Hun Sen’s family, including Puthyvuth, had benefited unduly from their family connections to build their businesses.

But since the re-launch, the federation has brought on board mobile phone provider Smart Axiata, digital entertainment service Sabay and internet service provider Ezecom, Path said.

He believes the ICT Federation is well lobby on behalf of the industry during what could be a time of dramatic transition in the sector, in parallel with global tech trends. The number of the Internet users in Cambodia has surged dramatically, from about 320,000 in 2010 to nearly 7 million by mid-2016, according to government figures.

The ICT industry has already grown significantly and is estimated to be worth about $800 million at present, employing some 30,000 IT professionals.

Path said the government and the private sector need to work together to build capacity so the domestic ICT sector can compete regionally and globally.

“We want to work with international companies [on], for example, building research centers, data centers [and] training our software engineers, [so] that Cambodia is ready for these opportunities,” Path said.

Economists and analysts support the federation’s view. Cambodia is benefiting from extended Internet coverage and the affordability of tech services and hardware, said Hiroshi Suzuki, chief economist at the Business Research Institute of Cambodia.

“I am expecting that the development of the ICT sector in Cambodia could be accelerated with the strong policy and support by the government,” Suzuki said.

Although some tech professionals still worry about their capability to compete, “the right amount of investment” into the industry would help the entire economy, said the Economist Intelligence Unit’s lead ASEAN analyst Miguel Chanco. The country could potentially “leapfrog” other nations with more developed tech sectors by quickly adopting new innovations, he added.

“The fairer and the more intense the competition, the better off consumers will be at the end of the day,” Chanco told VOA Khmer.

“The ICT Federation should play a couple of roles going forward: policy advocacy at home for the betterment of the local industry and as a base or forum to promote externally the potential of Cambodia's ICT sector.”

The Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications has endorsed the federation as a representative of the private sector, and is willing to play a role in the sector’s development, Path said.

He also said the group will aim to get across a positive message about Cambodia, contrary to the more critical view often given in international media.

“Cambodia is very stable, and the American media needs to portray what’s going on today,” he said. “Today, the population is very young, and the young population is hungry for opportunity.”